Sunday, March 31, 2013

Beamer Mar 30

Ken-tucky and Barb Wire were gracuious in sharing their ebird checklist for Beamer on Mar 30th with me.. This is what our count looked like (slight edit):

Tundra Swan  2
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  533
Golden Eagle  1     1 juvenile at 2:15 p.m.
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  4
Cooper's Hawk  6
Northern Goshawk  1  
Bald Eagle  3
Red-shouldered Hawk  213
Red-tailed Hawk  162
Rough-legged Hawk  3    
Killdeer  5
Eastern Bluebird  1

Pretty fun day overall..

After Ken-tucky stopped by the condo for a bit and picked out the first TREE SWALLOW for the patch list. Woot! Beauty of a spring bird and the FOY for both of us..


Friday, March 29, 2013

A few new pics + uploads

Just got around to uploading some previously posted photos to their pages online...

Already posted, finally uploaded:

First GGOW:

Last RBME:

Four posted CORA's:

Plus some new photos:

Tundra Swan (first):

Overall my TUSW pics stink, and that's still the case adding this one... Maybe someday i'll do the species justice.. 

Second Northern Shrike pic:

Nearly full frame pic of this cooperative bird from Thunder Bay

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Get your fill of migrants this weekend

Saturday looks superb... Light winds and sun... I may just have to go to Beamer for a sweet hawk flight (I hope)...


I also feel like this MAY be a fantastic year to get a Barnacle or Pink-footed Goose in eastern Ontario... I would guess these birds come from Greenland - pretty far north.. SO I've always assumed they'll pass through a bit later in goose migration (Mid-april?) - as the far north is still frozen..

With all the east winds, and all the cold - it may keep geese better concentrated (and further west) than typical in the cornwall-kingston-ottawa area... But hey, maybe there's one already out there and the fantastic weather this weekend will get someone out to find one...

Would be sweet..


Long range:


Get out this weekend to enjoy some birds... We're still looking below average in the 2-week range:

6-10 day - below average

8-14 day - below average... 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2nd winter Nelson's Gull

From mid-march, along Lake Erie... Added to the Nelson's Page:

Here's the pics:

Sweet lookin bird... Big and glaucous-y ... 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mergie picture

As I try and focus a bit more on getting some new photos - specifically ones I'm really happy with - I've started to have some sucess..

I was quite happy with the GG Owl I posted a week ago... And a few days a go I got this Mergie pic that I really like:

Image is virtually full frame, so I put it online at 1400 pixels to try and save some of the details for viewing (900 pixels at website size just didn't do it any justice)... This isn't much better, but it's enough... 

Do you like it?? Do you know what kind of Merg it is?! (Photo quiz time!!!)  I know, but I thought it made for a good quiz... Heck, I'm not sure if you could actually ID it for sure with this view... 

Anyways... Some success!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Personal Request to your local Naturalists Club

I may not be the most informed person on this subject, but my understanding is that Ontario Nature has put out a request for donations from Naturalist Clubs around Ontario to help fight the Ostrander Wind Farm in Prince Edward County....

All I can say is - for the love of god - please don't do this... If your local club is thinking about donating funds, send them an email asking them not to...

Is this honestly the best use of this money that Ontario Nature can come up with?! By nature, I think most clubs aren't exactly rolling in cash, and maybe  something involving purchasing property or nature related things/events involving children would be considerably better...


I also don't know the history of the FON and its turn into Ontario Nature, but I can only assume that this crusade against wind energy in general seems to have some sort of political agenda where they're hoping they can tap into the huge mob of angry Ontario residents who don't want turbines in their backyard to potentially support (and buy memberships or donate to) Ontario Nature themselves....

Which is all fine and dandy... I'm not an ONnature member and they can do whatever they want in my opinion...

All I'm doing is specifically addressing the idea of local naturalist clubs donating funds specifically to the Ostrander hearing, and it seems like a horrible idea to me... And all I can do is hope the money goes to some other cause that is far more worthy.

(On the same note, I'm also not trying to say anything specific about the proposed Ostrander wind farm either) ... Moving on!


IF the winds are fairly light tomorrow (Sunday) and IF the sun provides some prolonged periods of heat - it may be a fairly decent day at Beamer Hawkwatch in Grimsby to enjoy some migrating raptors..

No, probably not vagrants...

No, probably not huge numbers...

But high pressure and a gentle N / NE / E wind on a sunny day in late March can provide spectacular views of Red-shouldered Hawks (and other raptors) riding the updraft of the escarpment as they cruise past at an excellent height for viewing.

This is exactly what makes Beamer great overall...

THEE time of year where Beamer shines above other Great Lakes hawkwatches (mid-late March)...

THEE weather that creates it (high pressure with a lake breeze) due to

THEE geographic feature that is perfect location for the watch (The escarpment at its closest point to the Lake)


THEE species of Beamer - Red-shouldered Hawk! (The reason its an IBA).. That use these conditions for great counts...


It might not happen... But it might... I may go check it out (my favourite birding place ever) for a few spare hours tomorrow if it looks good...

Winds under 20kmh and lots of sun are the best...

Here's hoping

(Taken at Beamer years ago in March) 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

CORA 1 and 2

I had never taken any Raven pics that I was happy with prior to my trip to Thunder Bay.. Here's some "normal" ones:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

still cold in the longer range

6-10 day outlook:

8-14 day outlook: 


Pink-footed Goose in NY south of Kingston:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Remembering the 2012 march heatwave

Remember how insane March 2012 was?! It was MEGA hot day after day after day...

Not quite the same as 2013, as you can see in the above map....

Check out a blog post from last year with pics from the heatwave:


Below: Three month temperature and precip outlooks for the USA

Does that mean we can hope for a bunch of low pressure systems through the Great Lakes as April/May arrive?! I sure hope so...

Friday, March 15, 2013


I'm really flying by the seat of my pants here... woot

Had 7 Great Grays in 3 evenings of searching around Thunder Bay on my recent trip... I couldn't believe how few animals and birds we saw in general, but it was still fun... These guys stole the show... My early favourite pic of the trip:


Also was going to try and see if this was legit before posting to the world, but I haven't heard a thing, so here's the link:

Anna's are often posted from BC on the weater network, and maybe that's where the picture is from - but then again - maybe not?!?!

Anyone live up there who wants to figure this out??

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Migration Weather Update through March.

I've been all over Ontario for the past two weeks, and have officially run out of pre-written blog junk to fall back on... I also haven't answered emails for days on end, so yeah... Will see how far I get, and sorry to anyone who I've been ignroing for days...

Quick post:

High temps in Burlington for the next five days:

Fri: +3

Sat: -1

Sun: 0

Mon: + 4

Tues: +3

Then look at the CPC 6-10 day temperature outlook for the USA...

Then look at the CPC 8-14 day outlook for the USA:

Guess what that means?!

It means I hope you enjoyed the little blast of migration over the weekend, but the forecast for March remains the same as it was two weeks ago - slow drawn out spring migration in the near future...

Very few years go by without a blast of warm air in very late March or early April - so keep your eyes peeled for that... But yeah... I could pretty much copy and paste what I said two weeks ago:

Birds in the spring will move regardless of weather, but dont' expect any majorly exciting push of migrants.. They'll trickle in...

Look at it as building anticipation for May...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Birds so close, birds so far: Part 7 (Minnesota)

A look at provincial and state bird checklists, and the species they have that we (Ontario) don't!

Past states/provinces are archived somewhere on this page: 


Nothing like comparing our checklist to someone else on the Great Lakes... Gives us an idea of what we're missing, or just HOW CRAZY some possibilities are... Turns out, Minnesota has 12 species on their "official checklist" that Ontario doesn't....

White-tailed Kite
Glaucous-winged Gull
Elegant Tern
White-throated Swift
Coasta's Hummingbird
Calliopie Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Williamson's Sapsucker
Pygmy Nuthatch
American Dipper
Curve-billed Thrasher
Macgillivray's Warbler

Not a bad list! Let's break it down.

Category 1: COSMIC INSANE RARE ... when I read their checklist and say "WHAT!?"

Elegant Tern
Pygmy Nuthatch

We've got dozens and dozens of species that would be waay more likely (as a new bird for Ontario) than those megas... Nicely done Minnesota.... 

Category 2: CMF ... below category 2, but still really nutty... 

White-throated Swift
Costa's Hummingbird
Calliopie Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Williamson's Sapsucker - MAYBE category 3 worthy?
American Dipper
At the very least, there is some realistic hope we will someday be graced by one of these beauties in Ontario... The Hummingbirds are a funny one, because given our poor hummingbird list, there are a NUMBER we could add here in Ontario... So it was hard to classify a species like Costa's (that is a HUGE rarity, but maybe not category 1 rare? I couldn't decide)... 

Category 3: Overdue New... sure, these birds are super-rare in the fact that Ontario has never seen one... But we want one, and expect one (or more)..... 

White-tailed Kite (appears on a number of these lists)
Glaucous-winged Gull (still my most "overdue" bird for Ontario) 
Curve-billed Thrasher  (ditto)
Macgillivray's Warbler (yyyeah...)

Those 4 species are easily some of the more "overdue" birds for Ontario!!! Heck, these exact same 4 species were on the Wisconsin list as well........ 

Every post could use a picture, right? 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Non-myrtle or warbler photoshoot (part 3)

Part 3: Some other birds I took pics of at the same time as the Myrtle masses... Can't say no to these beauts..

Don't have many (any) Junco's on green... 

First photos of a Carolina Wren that were good enough to put online... Made me pretty happy

This was ANOTHER species I have rarely managed to photograph, but I managed to get in a 2 day span at Pelee in Mid October... Was pretty sweet!

Overall it was pretty darn productive, especially when I got 4+ species that usually don't cooperate for me... 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Non-myrtle Photoshoot

From the last post, I managed to pick out a few individuals of different species from among the Myrtle Masses... Here's the highlights:

My first photos ever of an Orange-crowned Warbler !!!

Blackpoll was #2 behind Myrtles in numbers (maybe 2% of the total warbs!)

I have always had a hard time getting anything of Tennessee Warblers, so I was pretty happy with this. 

Light wasn't great, but the birds were cooperating! So I had to fire away.. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Yellow-rump Photoshoot

Back in October when I was at Pelee, I had some crazy photography with huge numbers of fall plumaged Yellow-rumps... I've yet to edit them all, but here's 3 that I picked out from the masses early on.. There were hundreds of birds in several places, and virtually no other warblers with them! (Maybe 5-6 species max) .. Will focus on some "other" warblers in the next post

I have virtually no photos with "fall colours" in them of birds... Do these two count? Maybe?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Random things seen in the field

So there I was, watching a vulture flight at Pelee back in October

When suddenly, unexpectedly, a flock of striking shorebirds shot past! Golden Plovers! American Golden Plovers! (I was at the seacliffe hawkwatch spot near Leamington) 

The vulture flight died. What to do? Where to go? The Days Inn? I never would have guessed what happened next:

There they were... TWO hours later.. Golden Plovers.. THEE golden plovers... Who could have predicted it? 

And yeah.. That's the whole story. It wasn't very exciting, so I tried to dramatize it.. 


How about a weasel?? 

Can you ID Long-tailed and Short-tailed Weasel? I always thought they were like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, but now I think I'm wrong on that one... Anyone??

Not the best photo, but we had FANTASTIC looks... What an awesome animal.. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Occurrence and ID of Hybrid Gulls in Ontario: Herring X Great Black-backed Gull

Close study of gulls, throughout Ontario, has lead to an increase in the discovery of hybrids and abnormally plumaged individuals. Gull ID is often considered one of the most difficult areas for a bird watcher to learn, and hybridization is one aspect that can compound the problem when looking to identify them correctly.

Hybrids are problematic when trying to include in field guides, due to the massive amount of variation that can be shown when they start mixing their genetics. This makes them poorly understood and infrequently studied by the birding community as whole. The common belief is that since a hybrid does not count as a check on a list, many birders are potentially (if I dare say) un-interested in delving into this aspect of gull ID.  

This article will try to deal with some ID points of gull hybrids recorded in Ontario, and will make some comments on how often I tend to come across them. We’ll start off with some of the combos I encounter the most:

Herring X Great Black-backed Gull 

Hybrid Gulls are amazingly variable. Considering the massive amount of variation shown by some species of gull, mixing genes can create quite the mess of plumage features. When identifying hybrid gulls, a number of general features are often used to make the observer more confident in the ID.

When dealing with these hybrids, I'll start the breakdown with the obvious individuals. Unlike the last hybrid discussed (Nelson's Gull), this hybrid combo is often most noticeable when dealing with adult birds. 

Adult Great Black-backed Gull (top), adult hybrid (middle), adult Herring Gull (bottom). 

I've heard many a birder remark that hybrids are too confusing and not much fun to deal with... However I've found that they can (sometimes) be surprisingly easy to figure out. This is due to the fact that a large percentage show obvious intermediate uncharacteristic between the parent species. The darker mantle of the hybrid shown above alerts the observer to something interesting. However it is clearly much too pale to be a Great Black-backed Gull. The large size (and very large bill), just scream "GBBG" parentage, leaving little doubt to this birds identity. 

Hybrid (lowest bird) with the parent species... 
Same bird with Herring Gull 
Same bird again

Three looks at the same bird (different than the first bird shown) from Point Pelee in Sept 2006. Virtually all of the same identifying field marks apply to this bird as the last discussed. I find it interesting to note that many adult hybrids I see (of this combo) have "sickly" colours to their bill and legs. 

New bird... 

While most birds give the impression of being a "Great Black-backed" like gull with an intermediate mantle, it is also possible to find birds that are structurally more similar to Herring Gull (as shown above). However the bird is still rather large, and combined with pink legs - there are very few options for this bird  --- other than some extreme rarities --- that will be discussed later in this post. But first, we'll look at some sub-adult birds... 

3rd basic 

I almost feel like I'm beating a dead horse here... Note how once again this sub adult bird gives a strong impression of "Great Black-backed" but isn't quite as large... Not nearly dark enough either, indicating a hybrid.  Let's skip to another example: 

3rd basic/alternate (left-ish) 

This is a good bird to compare with the previous picture (showing variation in mantle tone). This bird is a lot paler than the former, but the exact same ID criteria apply! All fine and well, however things get extremley sticky when dealing with 1st year birds that do not show their "mantle shade" - below: 

Suspected first basic Herring X Great Black-backed Gull 

Given the massive range of variation in first winter Herring Gull (and large variation in Great Black-backed Gull), identification of this hybrid at this age is extremely difficult. Essentially to the point where I don't think we could ever be totally confident in the ID... This bird however, was one I thought looked pretty darn good! In the field it resembled a Herring Gull - yet had a heavy set bill and round head (with a small beady eye) recalling Great Black-backed Gull. The heavily checkered body/wing feathers also looks a bit extreme for Herring Gull, and potentially explained by the influence of Great Black-backed Gull genes. 

same bird in flight

In flight, the pattern continued to "fit"... The tail pattern could be considered intermediate between the two species, yet the strange white markings on the tips of the secondaries also seemed very odd for a "pure" Herring Gull - but is something I see on Great Black-backed Gulls. 

Overall I was pretty happy with claiming this bird as a hybrid, but virtually all of the features I've mentioned here can be shown by the huge range of variation seen in Herring Gulls... I could go on, but I think I'll leave "first year" hybrids here, and move onto some more of the fun stuff:

Abundance - I see this hybrid far too regularly here in Ontario... I once had 3 in view at the same time while birding at Niagara Falls in November, however a yearly total of 7-10 birds is probably normal for me (rarely more than 1 in a single day, when they are in fact seen). One thing going in their favour is they're present a bit longer throughout the year than some other hybrids (early Sept to mid/late May is the norm) . 

Similar Hybrids/Species -

Herring X Lesser Black-backed Hybrid's are generally similar, with intermediate mantle shades as adults. However they are smaller with pink/yellow mix to the leg colour. Lesser Black-backed Gulls often have odd black blotches on their bill (close to the base), which regularly appears in their hybrid offspring... I'll discuss this in more detail with the account for HEGU X LBBG, but it is very useful. 

One reason I really enjoy (and hate) this hybrid combo is its ability to look like SEVERAL mega-rare species of gull that could occur in Ontario. It is a MAJOR culprit in calls all around the Great Lakes of these species mentioned below:

SLATY-BACKED GULL - if you look in a field guide, SBGU is essentially a "dark-ish mantled gull, not as dark as a Great Black-backed Gull - with pink legs"... The same description as our beloved hybrid... 


Slaty-backed Gull on left, hybird on right...

If you dive a little deeper, you'll notice that the book talks about a "string of pearls" on the flight feathers, yet even this can be shown (poorly) by our hybrid. See below: 

hybrid wings.. 
The "pearls" are the white spots ABOVE the black in the wingtips (not the very tips of the feathers)... Here's a hybrid that shows that pattern pretty well! Suddenly we see how the ID of rare gulls can be so darn confusing... As well as showing us why field guides have a very difficult time in portraying the necessary suit of characters needed to confirm an ID of a vagrant! 

Some points that I look for:

- string of pearls need to be LARGE
- DEEP pink legs on Slaty-backed Gull are needed. Pinker than any nearby Herring or GBBG (or hybrid)
- streaking on the breast extending very far down... hybrids often show limited streaking and only on the head/neck. 

Anyways I think we get the point.. They can be superficially pretty darn similar!


"Vega Gull" at Point Pelee in 2012 

GBBGxHEGU Hybrid from Hamilton 

Vega Gull now has 2 records from Ontario (pending acceptance of the bird shown above). It is currently considered an Asian subspecies of the Herring Gull - however adults can also be surprisingly similar to our hybrid combo discussed here. Once again, the problem of depicting a bird like a "Vega Gull" in a field guide is probably the main source of our problems. In a typical guide, Vega Gull will essentially be described as a "Herring Gull with a darker mantle"... As mentioned earlier, and shown in the second photo - that is almost EXACTLY what our hybrids could look like (in a nut shell)!

So how would we ever find a Vega?? Well similar to Slaty-backed Gull, you need a whole host of features to really be confident. Some things I would look for: 

--- Molt timing ... both Ontario records of Vega were notable in that their molt patterns were much delayed compared to our birds. This is a great field mark for Vega. The October Vega at Pelee had barely started molting out of breeding plumage. Our locals were 70-90% done! 

--- deep pink leg colour... As with all of these features, none are 100% clinching, but you shouldn't expect to claim a Vega in Ontario with ugly/light pink legs

--- dark eye ! I've seen a hybrid with dusky eyes, but most are pale. Many a vega is dark! (although not all).. fun eh? 

Anyways... Any more potential mix-ups?! Why yes!


There are no records of Western Gull for the Great Lakes, yet a year probably doesn't go by where one isn't posted to a local listserv.. Why? Well same reasons of course! The field guide that shows a sketch of a Western Gull can look remarkably similar... Too similar in fact (I've seen photos of Western Gull from California and thought "dang, that looks just like a Herring X Great Black-back"" ... 

Ugly hybrid from Waterdown, ON

So how do we tell them apart?! Well I don't really know. I've never seen a Western Gull. I've seen Glaucous-winged, which are built the same as WEGU - and the structure is pretty unique... That's probably a main feature that I would look for. Or better yet, here's a link to some photos of what may be the only accepted Western Gull for eastern North America:

Just don't look too closely into that field guide! As many state that "Western Gulls" have a single white mirror on the 10th primary only - which is (apparently) a great field mark.. Just don't tell that to our hybrids - which show it all the time!

GBBG x HEGU from the Niagara River, showing one white mirror on P10... 

Conclusion: this is a pretty regular hybrid for me around Ontario... And the fact that it is a "dark mantled gull with pink legs" - allows it to be a lot of fun when trying to find a rare gull in the province. If you're interested in checking our some more photos, here's my full collection: